State Appellate Court Performance Standards

Role of Appellate Courts

The appellate court system's role is to review the decisions of trial courts and administrative agencies. Most states have a two-tier appellate court system that consists of an intermediate appellate court (usually called the court of appeals) and a court of last resort (usually called the supreme court). The trial court or administrative decision is first appealed to the intermediate appellate court. A further appeal is then available to the court of last resort. A few states have only a court of last resort, which hears all appeals directly from the trial court or administrative agency.

Appellate Court Performance Standards Commission

The Appellate Court Performance Standards Commission was set up to recommend performance standards for state appellate courts. The Commission concluded that the state appellate court systems had four main goals: to protect the rule of law, to promote the rule of law, to preserve the public trust, and to use public resources responsibly. This article discusses performance standards and measurements for each of these four main goals.

Protecting the Rule of Law

The appellate courts perform judicial review to correct errors in trial court or administrative decisions. If there are conflicts in lower court rulings, the appellate courts resolve such conflicts and clarify the law. Performance standards to protect the rule of law include an analysis of the number, type, and duration of cases heard in the appellate court.

Promoting the Rule of Law

The appellate courts promote the rule of law by making certain that the fundamental principles of due process and equal protection of the law are applied in every case and that each litigant is given access to justice. Appellate court decisions should be clearly written and cite to the underlying legal authority that serves as the basis for the decision. Cases should be resolved without unnecessary delay. Performance standards to promote the rule of law include an assessment of the procedures implemented by an appellate court and its compliance with its own procedures.

Preserving the Public Trust

The appellate courts must be physically and financially accessible to the general public. The appellate court system has a duty to enforce professional and ethical standards for appellate judges and attorneys. Performance standards to preserve the public trust include an evaluation of an appellate court's physical accessibility to persons with disabilities or those requiring special needs, such as services of an interpreter. The number of disciplinary misconduct cases involving the bench and the bar is a measure of how well the appellate court is meeting its goal of preserving the public trust.

Using Public Resources Responsibly

Appellate courts rely on public funds for their operations. They must adopt cost-effective systems to manage their ever-increasing caseload. As a method of assessment, an appellate court can compare the number of cases it resolved in a specific year to the average resolution rate of other appellate courts. It can also compare its current performance with its past performance as a measure of whether the court is being operated in a cost-effective manner.

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